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Facebook stopped from deciding what constitutes crime

Can't write the rule book on data access
Thu Jul 22 2010, 15:20

SOCIAL NOTWORKING SERVICE Facebook is not allowed to set rules on whether violating a website's terms of service is a crime, which is good news, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF has reported the outcome of a lawsuit in California that saw Facebook take on a firm called Power Ventures.

Power Ventures, for those who don't know, produces software that lets people aggregate their social notworking accounts and view all of their banality in one easy to ignore place.

Facebook's terms and conditions say that users are not allowed to access their own information through 'automated means', and had complained that Power Ventures enabled this and that its service was therefore accessing Facebook 'without permission'.

Facebook, which as we know jumps through hoops to put users in control of their own information - usually after it has given it away - said that the company had broken criminal law by evading Facebook's attempts to block its access, and Facebook asked a US federal court to agree.

Sadly for Zuckerberg and his lawyers, who are currently trying to ascertain whether he actually owns the controlling share in Facebook or not, the court did not side with Facebook, thanks in part to the intervention of the EFF.

"[The] EFF filed an amicus brief in this case, urging the court to reject Facebook's computer crime claims," explained, Marcia Hofmann, a senior staff attorney at the online rights advocacy group.

"We argued that turning any violation of terms of use into a crime would give websites unfettered power to decide what conduct is criminal, leaving millions of Internet users vulnerable to prosecution for everyday activities. The court agreed with our position, relying heavily on our brief. This part of the ruling is great."

However, we all know that "the law is an ass", and apparently Power Ventures might still be liable if, as Hofmann explains, it was changing its IP address to thwart the Facebook blocks.

"In other words, it may be a crime to circumvent technological barriers imposed by a website, even if those measures are taken only to enforce the terms of service through code," she explained. µ



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